Truck and Bus Accident Lawyers at Z&A Obtain First-Ever Court-Ordered Sleep Study
A number of federal and state regulations govern commercial truck and bus companies that operate interstate. They address everything from limits on the size and weight of the vehicles to the minimum qualifications required to be a commercial driver. The companies and their drivers must follow these regulations or face serious penalties, such as fines or, potentially, suspension of their operating licenses.
Some of the most important regulations that directly affect all of us who share the road with these large vehicles are those that prevent commercial drivers from driving while fatigued. These regulations restrict the number of hours the drivers can operate their vehicles in a given timeframe. They also require the drivers to be medically certified by a physician no less than once every two years. Ultimately, it is up to the truck or bus company to make sure a driver follows these regulations.
This all sounds like common sense. Everyone knows that driving while fatigued is dangerous. And the statistics confirm this. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration conservatively estimates that fatigue causes 100,000 motor vehicle crashes a year. Another recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that driving while fatigued increases the crash risk the same as does driving while intoxicated.
But fatigued driving is especially dangerous in a large commercial truck or bus. Those vehicles measure up to 10 times the size and weight of a normal passenger vehicle and can therefore cause significantly more damage during a crash. And fatigue has long been a major problem in the industry. Since as early as 1995, the National Transportation Safety Board has consistently ranked fatigue as a leading cause of fatal truck crashes in the U.S.
One of the most dangerous medical conditions that causes fatigue in commercial drivers is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods of time when they are sleeping because their upper airway is blocked. When this happens, the body reacts by waking the person up for very short periods of time to allow their normal breathing to restart. A person with OSA can stop breathing dozens to hundreds of times throughout the night without even knowing it.
Obstructive sleep apnea is evaluated using a variety of information, including a medical history and physical exam. Doctors look for risk factors, such as a high body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure, age of over 50, a large neck circumference, and a small throat canal. But the only definitive way to diagnose sleep apnea is through a sleep study, during which the patient spends the night at a facility and is monitored by machines.
Once diagnosed, most forms of sleep apnea can be effectively treated. Treatment typically requires use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which patients wear at night to promote better breathing and better quality sleep.
When untreated, OSA results in poor quality sleep, which in turn causes a host of health problems, including excessive daytime sleepiness and chronic fatigue. Harvard Medical School estimates that people with untreated OSA are up to 10 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash.
Despite the obvious implications of untreated sleep apnea on transportation safety, the industry has been slow to act, to put it mildly. Few companies screen their drivers for sleep apnea. Others’ screening procedures are ineffective because they rely almost completely on the self-reported symptoms of the drivers, who have an obvious financial incentive to underreport and may otherwise not even realize they have sleep apnea. Most companies even refuse to pay for their drivers to obtain necessary treatment, including for CPAP machines, which can cost thousands of dollars and are rarely covered by insurance.
The trial lawyers at Zehl & Associates are holding companies accountable for failing their responsibility to address sleep apnea. We have represented numerous clients who were killed or catastrophically injured by commercial drivers who were fatigued due to untreated sleep apnea. In a recent case against Greyhound Lines, Inc., the largest bus company in the U.S., our trial lawyers successfully forced the bus driver to take a sleep study, after he and the company continued to deny he had sleep apnea, despite having all the warning signs and causing a crash by running the bus off the road in the middle of the night.
After a long, hard fight, we obtained what is believed to be the first court-ordered sleep study in the U.S. See In re Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 05-15-00572-CV (Tex. App.—Dallas May 22, 2015). The sleep study revealed that the driver had borderline severe sleep apnea that went untreated. The company should not have let him drive the bus in the first place.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a commercial truck or bus driver, contact the trial lawyers at Zehl & Associates.
Author: Kevin C. Haynes